Saturday, February 1, 2014

Tahkenitch Dunes loop

Nothing will ruin a hike quicker than a bright orange sign with the words "Road Closed" on it. Especially when three burly lumberjacks stand guard behind the sign, effectively deterring a certain lone hiker with a sounds-like-a-dare mentality. And with those two words on the orange sign, my plan to backpack to the end of Umpqua Spit evaporated like so much water on a hot sidewalk in summertime.

What's a hiker to do?
So what's a hiker to do? My backpack was sitting in the back seat and I probably was wearing the same confused look my dog gets when you show her two treats but only give her one. Quickly, a plan B was formed and I drove further up Highway 101, winding up at Tahkenitch Campground Trailhead.

I brake for leprechauns

Feeling walky, I eschewed the easier right fork leading to Tahkenitch Dunes and headed uphill towards Threemile Lake on a crisp morning. The forest is beautiful here with sunlight slanting in through the trees. Green moss flanked the trail and ran up the trees and on the logs and on the benches and...and...suffice to say, moss was everywhere. The trail has its own little magical quality and it's not hard to imagine little leprechauns besides me cavorting in all the greenery.

Lichen on a log cut

Despite the cool nip in the air, I was plenty warm from the exertion of walking uphill with a heavy pack on. Fortunately, all the bad uphill stopped at the two mile mark as the trail crested the forested hill and began the drop down to Threemile Lake. Occasional windows in the forest growth provided intermittent views of the ocean and of Tahkenitch Creek. A wooden bridge crossing the inlet of Threemile Lake signaled my arrival at the lake.

Ducks at Threemile Lake

There is a beautiful campsite in some trees above the lake but some ATV cretins had paid a visit here and had chewed up the dunes with their tire tracks. It really irritates me that they have to incur into the hiking trails as they have their own designated area on Umpqua Spit. I try to be tolerant but there is an element of of the ATV crowd that does not care about the rights of others or following the rules so we all can enjoy the coast. any rate, I could not camp here and be happy.

Arrival at the beach
So off we (me and my imaginary friend) go on a sandy track to the beach below Threemile Lake. The tide was receding and there was plenty of beach to walk on. A row of white clouds formed over the land's edge with a deep blue sky overhead. Several fishermen working the surf were the only other people I'd run into during the weekend.

There's no place like home!
I had intended to wade across Tahkenitch Creek and hike further up the coast for some additional mileage but the creek was an equally effective barrier as a "Road Closed" sign. The creek was running fast and while I have no empirical data, I sensed and respected its deepness. So, at a weeny-like 4.8 miles, camp was set up on the banks overlooking the creek.

Hungry Tahkenitch Creek

The mouth of the creek keeps migrating south and the site where I had camped several years ago was now somewhere in the middle of the creek.  Also several years ago, the trail had to be rerouted because the creek had eaten up the trail and that's going to have to be done again as the current trail is right on the edge of the banks. The creek itself is clogged with dead trees in testament to its ongoing rampage through the forest.

After dinner, it was time to sit atop the beach foredunes and enjoy the sunset show. It was a good show, too, until a fog bank ended the festivities before the sunset denouement. It was like eating a banana split with no cherry on top. As soon as the sun disappeared, the cold came in and it was time to seek warmth huddled in a sleeping bag while listening to chunks of creek bank splashing into the creek. 

The next morning, a little bit before dawn, I headed out the beach where a large bird took flight.  The sheer majesty of its soaring flight gave it away as a bald eagle.  I spent about a half-hour observing the bird who did return to the mouth of the creek, joined by two other large birds. I could not tell if the new birds were eagles or not but generally, sea gulls do not chill at the beach with their eagle buddies.  Unfortunately, they were too far away to get a picture of.

Tahkenitch Dunes in the morning
Dawn finally arrived after camp was struck and I had nearly hiked out of the dunes. The golden glow of the sun illuminated the dunes and much photography ensued. After exiting the dunes, it was a mile of a trail tunneling though the lush coastal forest before arriving at the car. I think those burly lumberjacks did me a favor of sorts when they closed the road to Umpqua Spit.

The soft golden glow that comes from backpacking
For more pictures of this hike, please see the Flickr album.

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